Water Studies


OCTOBER 14, 2020

Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 has led NMC’s flagship Freshwater Studies program to a triple win: improving student learning, community collaboration and career exploration in a single course.

Introduction to Freshwater Studies is the first course in NMC’s first-in-the-nation Freshwater Studies associate degree program. This fall, instructor Constanza Hazelwood reimagined the 20-student course to conform to group size restrictions and distancing requirements necessitated by the coronavirus. She divided it into three tracks that allow students to experience project research, management and communications in areas that align with their interests, from water quality monitoring to habitat restoration to laboratory testing.

Freshwater Studies class gathers at Boardman River“We didn’t want large groups gathering anywhere,” said Hazelwood, who has taught the class for the past 11 years on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. “That’s what got me thinking we must have students outdoors. We cannot teach this on a screen.”

Field work and community partnerships have been part of the course in the past, but this time, it’s a much deeper dive. Hazelwood tapped nine community organizations, many non-profit. Each student works with three as they go through their tracks.

“This time the students are really engaged in the work of the organizations,” said Hazelwood.

Groups like the Grand Traverse Conservation District, where students planted trees to help restore the Boardman River Watershed (photos, courtesy Alan Newton) and the Glen Lake Association in Leelanau County, where students worked on a project to eradicate invasive yellow iris in Big Fisher Lake, part of the Glen Lake/Crystal River watershed.

Student plants tree near Boardman River‘We’re so grateful, not just for the manual labor but the opportunity to work alongside these really incredible students,” said GLA’s Tricia Denton. “These are the future caretakers of our precious water resources.”

Other groups participating include For Love of Water, Circle of Blue, Freshwater Solutions and Fish Pass. (Watch a TV 9 & 10 story on the Fish Pass project.)

“A big component is career exploration,” Hazelwood said. “It’s very much immersion in the professional world.”

“They’re working with master’s and PhD-level professionals, some of them who have been in the field for over 40 years, which is so different from reading about something online or in a textbook,” said Denton, who is also eyeing the group of nine students she worked with for future association interns.

2019 graduate Abbey Hull, now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Freshwater Science and Sustainability from Western Michigan University, a partnership with NMC, returned to mentor current students in a project using state-of-the-art technology to test water for E. coli. 

Traverse City’s Freshwater Solutions is the partner for the project using qPCR technology, which extracts DNA from water samples. Also being deployed to monitor for COVID-19, for E. coli, results are available in two hours instead of the 24 hours it would take using the traditional method of sampling and then attempting to grow cultures. 

Drilling down further, qPCR can determine the source of the bacteria — septic tanks, or waterfowl? — which guides appropriate mitigation. 

“This was a great way for students to get hands-on, and meet people in the field and network from there,” Hull said.

Hazelwood points out that it’s another opportunity for alumni like Hull, too.

“Even after graduating, they’re still learning from NMC,” she said. 

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From Northern Michigan to Costa Rica


Posted on Jul 1, 2015

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy is a student in the Freshwater Studies program at Northwestern Michigan College. He has been the recipient of several scholarships: Adopt-A-Student, the Global Opportunity Fund, the Science/Math Honors Merit Scholarship, and the Jensen-Lena C Scholarship.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy has many reasons to celebrate summer. One of them is his successful completion of the Freshwater Studies Internship with an international, interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from Northwestern Michigan College in the United States, and EARTH University in Costa Rica. An accomplished chef with 40 years of experience, Randy is broadening his professional outlook, exploring a new career in water. We are very pleased to feature his internship story.

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Growing female scientists


Posted on Dec 11, 2014

How do you get girls interested in STEM fields?

Consider showing them some stems.

Real, live, green ones, that is, with leaves growing. Put the girls — young women, really — in charge, from planting the microgreens to tending them to monitoring them.  Charge them with running experiments and collecting data, like whether the greens grow better under fluorescent lights or LED lights, and whether plain water or fish tank water is more nourishing. Let them harvest, and judge which kind tastes best.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in their vertical agriculture project.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in the vertical agriculture structure shown behind them.

That’s what intern Karla Vega and student Taylor West did this semester in a lab on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. The pair forged a research partnership that not only bridged language and cultural barriers but helps lay the groundwork for sustainable, indoor agriculture that could eventually improve the diets of millions.

“To get girls engaged in science we need to let them make decisions, give them room to make mistakes and try things out on their own,” said NMC Water Studies Institute Education and Outreach Coordinator Constanza Hazelwood, who supervised Vega and  West’s research this semester.

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Hans Van Sumeren, director of the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College and Carl Shangraw, professor of surveying engineering at Ferris State University talk about the Freshwater Studies program and the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at NMC. The program was one of three winners of the Trends in Occupational Studies’ 2013 Outstanding Educator Awards. The video is a Schoolcraft College Media Service Production.

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Adventures in Costa Rica

Adventures in Costa Rica


Posted on Sep 24, 2013

Earlier this month, NMC students Mara Penfil and Miriam Owsley presented a lecture on their 2013 internship in environmental management in Costa Rica.  They, along with fellow NMC student Samantha Padgett traveled to Costa Rica in May to EARTH University for the internship, and where they could interact with other students from around the world.

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NMC Great Lakes Water Studies student Chris Horvath is in Iceland this summer on a Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (MATE) internship aboard Columbia University’s research vessel the R/V Langseth, doing research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Chris is sending us periodic blog posts to update us on his adventure.  You can read the rest of them here.

Before I delve into this blog entry, there are a couple things I’d like to address:

First, in the last entry I detailed our gravimeter aboard the boat and identified it as a Lacoste and Romberg G237 unit, which is in fact the portable unit I will be using when we land back in Iceland.  That unit is taken to various control points around the world where the exact gravity has been surveyed in using some other very sophisticated equipment.  The Science Techs and myself will be taking the G237 to two control points in Reykjavik:  At the University of Iceland; and, outside the Hallgrímskirkja (giant Irish Lutheran church in the center of town).  The data we get from those points can be compared to the calibration of the Lockheed Martin B210 unit that is secured in the main lab aboard the ship.  All the data we collected during the cruise can then be confirmed as accurate and true; though, calibration is done before the cruise as well, and the B210 is monitored throughout our cruise.

Second, there is a website devoted to this cruise, which also includes some blog entries by other members of the team:  R/V Langseth – Reykjanes Ridge Cruise

I highly recommend that you check it out for some different perspectives.

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